The Japanese House at The Electric Ballroom
The Japanese House is a straight-forward performer. Nothing insincere, silly or stupid happens in her set. Each song is sung in the sincerest tone that a sincere tone can take. There are no frills, no grand visuals; just the act herself and a few anonymous instrumentalists. It’s very much just Amber Bain, the sum total of The Japanese House’s membership, playing the guitar on stage and singing. Luckily, she does not perform to a random few. Instead, she is followed by a sizeable fandom of similarly-understated imitators (imagine: many all black outfits, a uniform for listening to songs with loaded titles such as ‘Everybody Hates Me’ and ‘You Seemed so Happy’ that are, after all is cried out, still pop songs). An audience who doesn’t just listen to the music, they live it.
Her set runs like a cinematic score, the soundtrack to a life lived in love and loss. Many heads nod and lips sync. It’s no riot, but Bain clearly evokes passion in her listeners. The melodrama of her lyrics – “I found myself, I’m someone else” (‘Clean’) – connect to an emotional wretchedness that exists at the heart of a fan base that is otherwise alienated by mainstream stars such as Taylor Swift. This is their pretty blonde heroine, their indie alternative who rejects labels and stereotypes (and, why not?). Bain does not try to look glamorous or force what is false, she wears loungewear and refuses to indulge pop monologues about how much her fans mean to her; she’s here to play the guitar and sing, then promptly leave.
This isn’t to say that Bain is disengaged or unaffected. There are beautiful moments where she enjoys the rapture of her choruses with her fans, her eyes meeting the eyes of those in the front row. More than this: she genuinely seems to love being on stage, an excitable passion that is enthusiastically shared by her audience. Sure, her set is simple. Her songs sound alike, and the high point of variation is a switch from playing an electric guitar to an acoustic guitar, and then back again. But Bain certainly has an ability and talent that demands respect and, often enough, awe.